Archive for January, 2006

Firestorm #21 (2006)

January 31, 2006
When I saw the cover for this issue on the web several months ago, I knew I had to buy this issue. It’s a clever takeoff on the cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, the issue where Supergirl dies. You probably know the cover, since it’s appeared about a zillion times. It’s the one where Superman, in tears, holds the dead body of Supergirl, while dozens of heroes stand, mourning, on the cliffs and hills behind him. Well, on this cover Firestorm in tears, holds the dead body of Firestorm, while dozens of other Firestorms stand, mourning, on the cliffs and hills behind him. Each Firestorm looks just a little different from the next. There’s a lion-faced Firestorm and a Firestorm with a Superman "s" on his chest. There are Firestorms with puffy sleeves and others with no sleeves. The cover is pure geeky greatness.
 
Inside, the comic starts wonderfully, with a beginning like a cross-over to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Robbie Raymond and the Professor join together to become the Nuclear Man, and it’s pure nostalgic greatness, until the tone of the book shifts, and we see that this comic is from 2006, not 1986, and something bad has happened as part of the Infinite Crisis.
 
We find out that the new Firestorm has been split apart and that the new hero, Jason, has lost his partner. (If memory serves, Firestorm always had to be two guys joined together for some reason.) Jason somehow reaches into cosmic space and finds the Professor from the original Firestorm, and they basically chat for the whole issue.
 
Now, the chat isn’t too bad, but it seems awfully padded, and the story really gets lost in a lot of cosmic strangeness: "This is Firestorm’s history… his past, present, future, and all his alternate lives. His worldline. Every moment of your life you float along the hypersurface of Firestorm’s path. I’m merely using the stuff of the matrix to illustrate the point graphically." Umm… wha?
 
Igle, Barrows and Stull struggle to keep up with this cosmic babble, turning in some nice images, but there are just too many scenes of a guy talking with a disembodied cosmically aware floating head to keep things interesting. Trust me on this: as a rule, comics with cosmically aware floating heads are generally not all that great.
I have the beginning class in DC history necessary to get a good grade from the cosmically aware floating head Professor, but not the advanced class. The cover and first few pages are great, but the comic loses steam quickly.
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All-Star Superman #2 (2006)

January 30, 2006
Sorry, Mark Waid. Too bad, Mark Millar. It was fun, Frank Miller. Nice try, Warren Ellis. But it’s true. You’re all in second place. Because there’s nobody in comics today who writes comics like Grant Morrison.

I know it’s not news that Morrison is good, really good, really goddam great in fact, but he is. There’s just something magical about the way that Morrison thinks about his stories, the way he creates his plots, his nice character bits, the wonderful details he throws in to his stories. Morrison’s stories have a tremendous sense of energy and thoughtfulness, where the unexpected seems both fresh and ordinary at the same time. In this comic, Morrison brings readers miniature dwarf suns, dinner aboard the Titanic, Supermen of the future, and other cool touches, and it all seems interesting and cool and clever and true to the character all at the same time.

Frank Quitely is a wonderful artistic partner to Morrison, bringing freshness to the familiar while being true to the underlying concepts. The desolation of his Arctic landscape on pages two and three is gorgeous, while his Lois Lane is wonderfully human.

This has all the makings of something really classic.

Marvel Premiere #1: Warlock (1972)

January 29, 2006
Adam Warlock was the gold-skinned epitome of perfection, created by some scientists in an issue of Fantastic Four. In ’72, the character was revived at the hands of Roy Thomas and Gil Kane, two creators who always thirsted to create something a bit different from the standard comics fare. If Warlock was the living embodiment of perfection, then some interesting plots had to open up as he confronted mankind’s imprefection.
 
To set up that confrontation between perfection and imperfection, Thomas and Kane set up an alternate earth, Counter-Earth, orbiting exactly opposite of the earth, a place that wa intended to be perfect but into which evil would rise in spite of itself. Warlock wouldn’t just be a good guy fighting bad guys on Counter-Earth. Instead, he was the living personification of good, fighting the living personification of evil.
 
This first issue just sets up the storyline, and even at 27 pages, it’s absolutely crammed in exactly the way that most comics of that era were. This issue is actually a good argument for decompressed storytelling, or at least more decompressed than this comic. The creator of Counter Earth, the High Evolutionary, has that planet evolve from one single rock to dinosaurs to mankind in a mere five pages. Such a great moment surely deserves more time, but Thomas and Kane were in a rush. They had a big story to tell, and even the evolution of a whole planet was just a plot point in their larger scheme.
 
With wonderful art by Kane, this is a terrific ’70s comic, though it’s really more 27 pages of exposition than it is a real story. It’s great to see creators playing with larger ideas, though, and it’s a shame that they really didn’t get explored more.

Firestorm #21 (2006)

January 27, 2006
When I saw the cover for this issue on the web several months ago, I knew I had to buy this issue. It’s a clever takeoff on the cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, the issue where Supergirl dies. You probably know the cover, since it’s appeared about a zillion times. It’s the one where Superman, in tears, holds the dead body of Supergirl, while dozens of heroes stand, mourning, on the cliffs and hills behind him. Well, on this cover Firestorm in tears, holds the dead body of Firestorm, while dozens of other Firestorms stand, mourning, on the cliffs and hills behind him. Each Firestorm looks just a little different from the next. There’s a lion-faced Firestorm and a Firestorm with a Superman "s" on his chest. There are Firestorms with puffy sleeves and others with no sleeves. The cover is pure geeky greatness.

Inside, the comic starts wonderfully, with a beginning like a cross-over to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Ronnie Raymond and the Professor join together to become the Nuclear Man, and it’s pure nostalgic greatness, until the tone of the book shifts, and we see that this comic is from 2006, not 1986, and something bad has happened as part of the Infinite Crisis.

We find out that the new Firestorm has been split apart and that the new hero, Jason, has lost his partner. (If memory serves, Firestorm always had to be two guys joined together for some reason.) Jason somehow reaches into cosmic space and finds the Professor from the original Firestorm, and they basically chat for the whole issue.

Now the chat isn’t too bad, but it seems awfully padded, and the story really gets lost in a lot of cosmic strangeness: "This is Firestorm’s history… his past, present, future, and all his alternate lives. His worldline. Every moment of your life you float along the hypersurface of Firestorm’s path. I’m merely using the stuff of the matrix to illustrate the point graphically." Umm… wha?

Igle, Barrows and Stull struggle to keep up with this cosmic babble, turning in some nice images, but there are just too many scenes of a guy talking with a disembodied cosmically aware floating head to keep things interesting. Trust me on this: as a rule, comics with cosmically aware floating heads are generally not all that great.

I have the beginning class in DC history necessary to get a good grade from the cosmically aware floating head Professor, but not the advanced class. The cover and first few pages are great, but the comic loses steam quickly.

Man-Thing #9 (1974)

January 26, 2006
You might think from my recent series of articles about mediocre – and worse – ’70s comics that all of were pretty crappy, cheezy and flashy little bits of four-color fun and nothing more. That’s the stereotype of comics, right? But nothing could be further from the truth. Comics in the 1970s, like most media, followed Sturgeon’s waw: 90% of everything is crap. But that 10% of comics are great, and that what I’m going to write about in the next few days: good ’70s comics.
 
And what better comic to start with than one of the finest series of that era, the Man-Thing, by perhaps my favorite comics writers, Steve Gerber.
 
The Man-Thing was a mindless creature who lived in the Everglades Swamp in Florida. Most of the time the Man-Thing lived in his own little world like any other creature. But when emotions invaded his swamp, the Man-Thing would be compelled to react. Mindless and emotionless, the Man-Thing was essentially a supporting character in his own comic as emotional storms happened all around him. Sometimes he would meet a teenager named Jennifer with wizardly powers, sometimes his path would cross with a down-on-his-luck radio DJ named Richard Rory, once, improbably, the Man-Thing crossed the path of Howard the Duck. There was an amazing elasticity to the stories as penned by Gerber. Literally anythng could happen. The story could be about a clown rising from the dead or it could be about book burning. It could be about a naive Superman analogue finding his way, or it could be about the horrible feeling of being a child ostracized in his high school.
 
It was a heady mix, emotional and thoughtful, the kind of series that only the most talented of writers could make succeed. Gerber was the perfect writer for this series, since his stories were all about emotion, confusion and disappointment. He’s always been one of the most intelligent and probing comic writers, writing with soul and energy and a heart searching for answers in a meaningless world.
 
This issue, "Deathwatch," starts with these wonderful captions, which capture the book well: "It is Monday… which means nothing to the macabre Man-Thing… to a creature who cannot reason, who barely notices the passing of the seasons, let alone the days and nights. But Monday is washday for Maybelle Tork, who despite all reason, lives here, in this tiny hovel, amid the brooding shadows of the swamp."
 
It turns out that Maybelle is an old woman who lives an isolated life with her husband Zeke at the edge of the swamp. Unfortunately, Maybelle is a sick woman, Fearing a heart attack, Maybelle sends Zeke to town for drugs. Unfortunately, while he’s on his way, Maybelle has the heart attack and dies. Meanwhile, as Zeke boats to town, he keeps getting attacked by creatures that seem to be possessed with an evil spirit… and that’s it. To be continued.
 
The story’s short and compact, but still seems to take its time, like a shaggy dog story leading nowhere. At the same time, Gerber’s captions give everything a comfortable energy.
 
Mike Ploog’s art is a gorgeous fit for this comic. His style is perfect for the swamp life. A reader can imagine the mists of the swamp hanging over every panel, giving the comic an incredible sense of its place. Maybelle and Zeke are gorgeously rendered, looking odd and weird and real all at the same time.
 
This might not be the most typical Man-Thing issue, but it still shows Gerber and Ploog at their best.

Star*Reach #2 (1975)

January 25, 2006
At the same time as the Mighty Marvel Mediocritiestm that I’ve been writing about, this comic came out. Featuring a bizarre cover of a topless blue-skinned woman holding some sort of spear between her legs by Neal Adams, Star Reach #1 promised "48 pages of story $1." This was in an era when comics sold for 20¢ each, so such a comic was a real splurge. But how few Marvel and DC books claimed they were "Creativity Unchained", as the inside front cover screamed, or featured topless or fully naked women in every story?
 
Like the first story, which introduces Stephanie Starr, in a story illustrated by Dick Giordano. Stephanie is topless throughout the whole 20-page story. In fact, for almost all of it, she wears nothing but some bikini bottoms as she runs around a desolate space-scape, running away from some evil jerks. This must have seemed very cool to Giordano, to get to do something that Marvel or DC never would have published. Oddly enough, the nudity actutally isn’t purient – I actually kind of got tired of how outlandishly absurd Stephanie looked after a few pages. And the story by Mike Friedrich was absurdly stupid and dull. It’s never quite sexy, never quite adventurous, mostly just a mostly-naked chick running around on a moon. Ho hum.
 
Another topless woman, or actually, topless robot, appears in John Workman’s story "Key Club." A man falls in love with a robot that’s supposed to somehow nteach him how to love women and then… well, it’s kind of stupid, do you need to know more?
 
Then there’s "All a World of Dreamers" by Lee Marrs and Mal Warwick. I guess Marrs and Warwick were married at the time of this story, though Marrs eventually got hooked up with Mike Friedrich. There’s something kind of bizarre about that story – an editor publishes work by a husband and wife team, and then she divorces her collaborator and marries the editor. I bet that doesn’t happen much. Anyway, this story makes no freaking sense at all to me, but guess what? Even though Lee Marrs is a woman, she still draws, guess what, a topless woman.
 
But that’s okay, because on the last page of the comic, Mike Vosburg draws a fully naked woman with a centaur.
 
I guess Star*Reach is a time capsule. On one hand it’s got lots of conventional comics creators, on the other it’s kind of a bizarre relic of the early ’70s. I just don’t know what the heck to make of it.
 

Adventure into Fear with the Man Called Morbius — the Living Vampire #30 (1975)

January 24, 2006
Yeah, I like new comics (witness my reviews the last few days), but my heart really does live with the silly comics of the 1970s. There’s just so much to grab onto. Like why such a long title? Did Marvel think that Fear wasn’t a good enough title? Or The Living Vampire? Or even the eerie Morbius? What purpoose is served by a title like Adventure into Fear with the Man Called Morbius — the Living Vampire? (I sound like Estelle Costanza – George’s mom – from Seinfeld. Hey, if ’70s Marvel published a Seinfeld comic, would it be called Adventure Into Laughter with the Man Called Seinfeld — The Living Comedian?
 
I know I kind of played this joke out a couple of weeks ago when I wrote about Marvel’s Space Born Superhero! Captain Marvel, but the Marvel line in the ’70s was plain bizarre if you look at it. Sometimes series would get their own book and not last – The Champions and Black Goliath pop to mind. Other times, series got shoved into anthology books that basically were just solo comics ("Tigra" in Marvel Chillers) and still other times series would start in anthology titles, and be "rewarded" for good sales with their own titles ("Iron Fist" in Marvel Spotlight, "Son of Satan" and "Ghost Rider" in Marvel Premiere, "The Man-Thing" in Fear).
 
"Morbius" was an especially odd case because although he appeared in two different titles at the same time. He was in the black and white magazine Vampire Tales, with exquisite writing by Don McGregor, and in Fear, with studiously mediocre writing by Bill Mantlo. McGregor’s stories were always controversial, since he may have the densest words-to-page ratio of any writer in comics history. His comics were crammed with text. I’ve always liked the way McGregor was able to pull out the deeper emotions and thoughts of his characters, but many people just wanted him to SHUT UP already and tell his stories.
 
But we’re here to talk about Bill Mantlo’s "The Vampires of Mason Manor", where Morbius, the chalk-white man who’s a vampire because he took drugs (paying attention, kids?) hangs out with a fast-talking newspaperman called Stroud as they fight some vampires. Yeah, vampire vs. vampire. It’s quick, cheap and dull.
 
The best part is actually the letters page where the editors announce the book is about to get cancelled. "Two issues from now, if you don’t save it, you’ll be holding in your hands the last issue of Adventure Into Fear featuring Morbius, and the only living vampire will go to his untimely death. Some other star will step into the spotlight, Tough, huh?"
 
Of course, it never occurred to Marvel to put a good writer or arist on the book (that’s actually a slightly unfair critiicism, since Steve Gerber’s run on the series was a stream-of-consciousness work of genius, though he was gone for over a year by this issue) or come up with something that’s legitimately scary. Instead, it was just another mediocre mid-’70s Marvel comic.

The Seahawks are in the Super Bowl!

January 23, 2006
It happened! It finally happened! After all the years of frustration for Seahawks fans, it’s finally happened. After thirty years of frustration and suckitude, a 2-14 season and endless wasted draft picks, the Hawks are finally there.
 
There’s nothing as sweet as your hometown team playing in the championship. After completely dominating their opponents in the NFC Championship Game, finally fulfilling the dreams of we fans, we can finally sit back and enjoy it.
 
One more game to go, but they’re in the Super Bowl!

Infinite Crisis #4 (2006)

January 22, 2006

It’s funny, no matter how much grandeur and excitement there is in a story, it’s the personal moments everyone remembers. "Luke, I am you father" is more interesting than all the space battles (and part of why the Star Wars prequels basically failed). "Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn" is more memorable than the Civil War battles in Gone With the Wind. And in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, people remember the deaths of Barry and Kara, and the spooky last page with the Psycho Pirate, more than the battle between the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor.

It feels like Geoff Johns is striving for much the same thing here. The Earth-Prime Superboy goes Kid Miracleman and ravages a whole slew of heroes (though, conveniently, nobody that fans really care about), but the most memorable thing in the scene, at least from me, is his statement to the current Superboy: "You fooled everyone into believing you were actually Superboy. You don’t even have a cape!" That Superboy is so naive that he believes all the trappings of the superhero are what’s important, instead of the hero within. Like many kids, he believes that surface matters instead of what’s inside.

There are a lot of nice moments in this issue. The chats between Batman and Nightwing – "The early years, I’ve forgotten if… they were good for you, weren’t you?" "The best." Or Wally West, grabbing for his wife in a moment of stress. Or, for that matter, Barry Allen appearing in that same moment. Booster Gold being on a toothpaste box. On and on.

It’s a bit confusing around the edges, and I really do find it convenient that none of the big names were killed in the battle, but overall Johns does a nice job in this comic of combining the big with the small. And what an intriguing ending!

Comic Effect #44 (2006)/Brother Power the Geek #1 (1968)

January 21, 2006
My friend Jim Kingman has just released the latest issue of his wonderful fanzine Comic Effect. The latest issue has my favorite comic-related piece I’ve ever written. a look at the infamous comic Brother Power the Geek. I can’t resist running an excerpt from the piece. But please visit Jim’s site and order the zine from him. You will love it, I promise!
 
Here’s the excerpt:
 

Okay, listen up because what I’m about to say will go completely against the conventional wisdom. It’s as if I were calling white black or were getting day and night inverted. But it’s true: Brother Power the Geek, commonly thought of as one of the worst comic books in history, a veritable Plan Nine from Outer Space in comic book form, is actually a really good comic. No, not just good, it’s a great comic book. It’s an astonishing look inside the mind and thoughts of its creator, Joe Simon. Brother Power is a completely unique vision of the world, a fully realized view of the world that is, in its own way, as brilliantly distorted and skewed as that of much more acclaimed creators and creations. In fact, if we step outside of the conventional wisdom of the comics world, Brother Power is a less compromised and more intellectually consistent view of the world than many other comics of its era that have received much more critical acclaim.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s important to emphasize one more point: the stories in these two issues don’t make a tremendous amount of logical sense. The events that happen to the characters, the way the characters behave, and their world views seem to come from a completely different world from the one we inhabit. However, this lack of external logic, this feeling of extreme dreamlike unreality, in fact helps to emphasize the greatness and uniqueness of the vision behind this comic. Just as the comics of R. Crumb live in their own bizarre unreality, so Joe Simon’s Brother Power lives in its own equally unique and idiosyncratic reality.

Joe Simon is the creative force behind Brother Power. Simon is most well known, of course, for his long partnership with the great Jack Kirby, a partnership that lasted some twenty years. In that time, the team created Captain America, romance comics, and the Fly, and produced some dynamic and long-remembered work for a plethora of publishers. After their partnership dissolved, Kirby went on to become the most influential and beloved figure in comics history. Simon, on the other hand, passed into obscurity. He edited the long-running MAD rip-off Sick, but that magazine is long-forgotten today. He also did some advertising work and worked as a successful businessman. But his stake in comic books ebbed while his former partner’s reputation exploded.

In 1968, Simon returned to comics. ’68 was a very big year for comics. Marvel’s long-time distribution deal, which had limited the number of comics they could release, expired. The parent company of DC had a stake in that distributor, and thus DC was compelled to help fill the gap in the number of titles available on the newsstand. This helped bring on a second dawn to the Silver Age, an era where such titles as Beware the Creeper, Bat Lash, and Anthro appeared, The staid Green Lantern strip was reincarnated as the radical Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and exciting covers by Neal Adams gave many comics an exciting new look, at least on the outside. Most of the new titles had relatively short-runs, but that doesn’t change the fact that DC was trying to bring new blood and excitement to their formerly quiet and predictable line. It didn’t help that DC’s sales were slipping as Marvel’s were growing.

Into that frame, Joe Simon was recruited back to DC. He opted to create a new title to celebrate and satirize the then burgeoning hippie movement. The Summer of Love, after all, had just happened a year earlier, and youthful rebellion was in the air. In the eyes of many critics of the title, this is where the tragic disconnect happened. Simon had as much insight into the hippie movement as you or I have into being a professional football player: he read about it, learned a bit about it, but he had no idea what it really meant to be a hippie.

That’s what many people say. But they miss the point. Brother Power is not about the hippie movement. It’s about Simon’s bizarre perceptions of the hippie movement. In other words, the key thing is not the setting of the comic. The greatness of the comic is in the way the setting is used and the comic is created. And it’s there that Brother Power is something very special.


To read more, please order the zine. There’s lots more cool stuff in there, too!